choreography

Museums, Runways, Dive Bars and Dance Studios. My interview with creative force Ryan Heffington.

Choreographer, Artist, and Director Ryan Heffington seamlessly weaves between commercial, art, music and concert worlds with his unique style of choreography. From heartfelt emotional content to campy humor, Ryan's work sews a story that is human and accessible. His unique style can be seen on projects for Aloe Blacc, Sigur Ros, Sia, Muse, Ke$ha, Joe Boxer, American Airlines, Evian, Target and many more.

Though trained in jazz and modern dance, Heffington works with a declared blindness to any formal boundaries, merging music, fashion design and popular culture in his stated mission to expose contemporary dance to as many people as he can.  Ryan, in my opinion, is a true creative dance force in our community.  Undeniably original, unique, fresh, out of the box, humanistic, real, raw and viscerally exciting, I am always inspired by him as an artist.  I’ve worked with Ryan numerous times and I’m so glad that he agreed to sit down with me to talk about his art and the business.  Enjoy!

TNH:  When did your love of dance begin?

RH:  Straight out of the womb.  My parents tell me I danced every moment, for relatives, strangers.  It was at age 6 they enrolled me in tap class and that's where my training began.  I would watch Solid Gold and put paper clips on my fingers to emulate Darcel or run around the house as if I were in the opening credits of Fame.  Dance was inside me from the beginning. 

TNH:  Have you always been a creative person and what fuels your creativity?

RH:  Yes, I’ve always created work in one art form or another.  I love to create digital collages - make flyers for my events/dance studio, paint, draw, make costumes, put together interesting looks before heading out of the house.  Creating is part of my human desire that comes naturally and I never question this in it's process.  Not everything I create I love but it formulates a bridge to the final product.  Life in general is my fuel for creativity.  I’m like a funnel where all I see, hear, and experience mixes to create a new form that is often in physical / dance form.  I pull from my personal relationships with lovers, friends, family as well as steal moves from pedestrians I see chatting on their phones on street corners. 

TNH:  What do you find are the hardest challenges as a dancer and choreographer in this business?

RH:  It's interesting being a dancer / choreographer.  I find getting credit can be challenging as a choreographer.  Our 'role' in the realm of the production process, people still find secondary.  I’m still put under or near 'catering' 'misc' 'medic' on call sheets, even when the whole commercial IS dance. So I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure these little gestures are given attention in hopes of becoming recognized as equal to others on projects. 

When I was working as a dancer more, years back, I struggled with simply making a living.  I had a unique look and movement quality and not every audition called for this.  But to keep my focus, I created work (dance pieces / shows) every chance I had.  This fulfilled my artist's soul and kept me focused on the joy I gained from creating.  

TNH:  What are the most rewarding aspects of being in this business?

RH:  I've been fortunate enough to travel the world within this profession. Teaching in Nicaragua, performing at clubs in Paris, choreographing a Bollywood sequence in the Sri Lankan countryside. . . this has been incredible. I've also had many interesting and challenging jobs that have expanded my interpretation of how dance / choreography is defined.  This is what fuels my desire to choreograph and keeps me reinventing my art. 

TNH:  What advice would you give to a young dancer wanting to make it professionally?

RH:  I recently taught an auditioning workshop at LMU where I held a mock audition.  After each group performed I had them stand in a line and tell me what they thought I would say in regards to their audition performance. 100% of them knew exactly what my response would be.  To this I say, be your own teacher.  Look and listen to yourself as an artist, layout what you want and the path you think would be best (and realistic).  There are many mentors / teachers out there willing to have a conversation with you about this.  Reach out, ask questions, inform yourself.  But most of all, love yourself.  Don't let auditioning bruise your psyche. 

Being on the other side of the camera now, I've realized the choreographer has such little control over what decisions are made for casting.  We have the agency, the client, the director, the managers and the artists themselves with very strong opinions to contend with.  If you give everything you have, which may not be enough unfortunately, you should walk away from every audition proud and with a sense knowing you did your best for that particular moment.  We're all human, we fall out of turns, wear the wrong outfit, forget choreography - and this is just being human. We must love ourselves for this too, not being perfect in every situation.

...and at the end of that mock audition class, the last thing I had the dancers standing before me do was to go to the side of the room and tell themselves 2 things they love about themselves.  This is the most important advice I could ever give to any artist, friend, stranger.  Love yourself. 

TNH:  There can be ups and downs, rejection and disregard in the entertainment industry.  What tools have you developed to keep your confidence and belief in yourself?

RH:  I try to keep a good perspective on what it is I do as a living.  I’m a freelance artist, which means I never know what will be next... a gig, 6 months of no work... it's so fickle this line of work.  I don't let the business determine my happiness or worth. 

I acknowledge that being a choreographer is just a fraction of who I am and concentrate on other aspects like being a community builder, a teacher, a friend. Giving back, whether it's contributing to articles like this one or lecturing at colleges, keeps my head in the right place.  Anyone can donate their time and energy that in turn culminates in a better society overall.

TNH:  Thank you, Ryan, for sharing with me.  And thank you to those who have visited this page.  This is part of a series of interviews; Debbie Allen and Rob Marshall will be next.   

 

Here's one of Ryan's latest projects, HomePod collaboration with Spike Jonze and FKA twigs.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

A Conversation with Choreographer/Director John DeLuca

I owe so much of my career to director/choreographer Rob Marshall and his creative partner John DeLuca.  It’s hard to put into words my deep respect and admiration of these two artists and men.  I find it rare to experience talent, instinct and brilliance with the kind hearted, soulful personality that exudes ease, grace and diplomacy in a work setting.

They always say the tone of a set is established from the top, and trickles down to every department and every person working to bring something special to stage or screen.  Rob Marshall and John DeLuca are such class acts, moving forward with every beat in the most respectful, loving, admiring way, and bringing each individual along for the ride.   

It makes working for and with them an absolute pleasure and creates a safe space for actors, singers, dancers, everyone involved, to bring the best of themselves.  How they operate and run a project has been my reference and I have to admit, I don’t really tolerate much less anymore.  It’s not worth it to me to be miserable making art.  I know it’s possible to work hard, be absolutely committed, and make something beautiful and worthwhile, while experiencing true collaboration, joy and fun.  

From the Academy Award winning Chicago, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean, to the Emmy winning Tony Bennett: An American Classic, John's choreography has graced many mediums.  I’ve been lucky enough to work on many of these projects, and have learned from him and Rob in the most incredible way.  

John took time out of their very busy schedules to talk with me for my interview series.  So thankful he did.  I’ll always cherish my time with Rob and John, and our conversation was a reminder of all that I love about these two.

Enjoy!           

TNH:  How does being a dancer and choreographer inform you as a director?

JD:  Being a dancer and choreographer makes you so aware of the music and the tempo and the mood of scenes.  I had a great drama teacher in college who told me we had to do the scenes without the words and he said, “if you’re really connecting with the feelings and letting it become a part of you, you don’t need the words.”  That was a great exercise and it is true.  I always enjoyed the physical side of acting and singing, or whatever I was training in, and it allowed me into that.  There is a rhythm and a physical dimension; and the architecture and the staging of a scene is the same as a dance.  

TNH:  It’s like the scene has movement and choreography, and flow as well.  

JD:  Absolutely, and then there is also a certain detail and specificity that comes from that developed eye that you get from being a dancer, then a choreographer.  There is something in that detail that can’t be matched.

TNH:  It’s almost like being able to read nuance and seeing all the fine pieces.  I remember during Chicago, shooting All That Jazz, and Rob yelling “cut” and then coming over to fix my hair.  You and Rob see ALL the details that make the whole.

JD:  It’s like painting a picture.  All those dots that do come together.  A good choreographer knows, as a good director knows, that it’s not only about the words or the steps, it’s about telling a story and communicating feelings within your concept.     

TNH:  How is choreographing for stage different than choreographing for film? 

JD:  Choreographing for stage is different than film.  For film or tv, you have to know where the camera is, and choreograph within that framework.  It opens it up to that 360 dimension.  Both are really fun.  The art of creation is similar, but the craft is different.  It’s like acting.  People always ask me how acting for film and stage is different.  And the basics are the same.  Sometimes you have to bring it down a little, classically, for film.  As long as you are feeling those feelings as an actor or dancer, it translates.  

TNH:  I remember Marion Cotillard during our Nine shoot.  Her gestures were so simple and small, but emotionally she was so expansive.  

JD:  She just freaked me out.  She was brilliant.  There is no way she doesn’t tell the truth.  A beauty inside and out.  

TNH:  All those actors on that film, I just fell in love with.

JD:  I know, I know!  And the nicest people too.  Having a good disciplined rehearsal period can’t be beat for getting to know and trust each other.     

TNH:  Do you read reviews of your work and if so, how do you separate the courage to create from the fear of how it’s received?

JD:  I don’t ever, ever read reviews.  I keep myself so far away from that because it can be torture, and it’s really just one person writing down their thoughts and everybody reading it, and it’s so subjective.  I got a review in college.  It was very positive for me, but it did say my singing voice wasn’t as powerful as my operettic leading lady.  You see, I still haven’t forgotten.  I said no, I don’t need that in my head.  I am very sensitive, so I decided to keep out of it.  

TNH: We can be our own worst critic anyways, and if we have people around us that we trust to give productive feedback, then maybe that’s enough for one’s creative process.  I imagine it could be paralyzing.

JD:  And really, no one really understands what you went through getting there.  There are so many different aspects, it’s so complex.  I am so skeptical and hard on myself that I already have enough of that in my own brain, I don’t need that outside feedback from someone I don’t know.  

TNH:  I guess that’s part of it, knowing yourself well enough to know if it will be productive for you and if you can handle it.   

JD:   And then there are people who just dive into the next project, without getting stuck in the success or failure of something.  And I think that’s great, move on.  Since film takes so long and the process takes at least 2 or 3 years, I need to stop and fill up. 

TNH:  And maybe it’s also a shedding experience.  I remember Daniel Day Lewis talking about how much time it takes him to shed the role, shed the experience.  Because you give so much, you need that time to replenish.

TNH:  When you cast dancers, what do you look for?

JD:  It always depends on the piece.  I really look for a personality, a point of view.  I love someone who throws themselves into it 110 percent, and just looses themselves in the movement and the expression of what they are doing.  You know from working with me, I almost strive for the imperfections of everyone’s personality to come out, which is different than a lot of choreographers who want that perfection of every little thing.  That doesn’t excite me.  I would much rather prefer them staying open and having a point of view about something so their unique story comes forward.  As a choreographer and director, you want to be inspired too.  I don’t love sitting in my little office creating a scene or a dance.  I like having a shape and then throwing it on people and seeing what they bring.  That’s going to be better than anything.  That is the collaboration that is gold for me.

TNH:  And when you might meet a young performer with big dreams, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work as a professional dancer, singer, actor?  

JD:  I remember as I was doing my little climb, and people would say to me “You made it!” and I would respond “It’s just a different door.” It could be a non-equity door or The Broadhurst Theatre.  It’s just your attitude toward it.  Even when I was working for no money in Boston, I felt the same way walking on that stage as I did walking out on the Broadway stage.  

TNH:  That’s a huge gift.  Because you can have this bigger vision of dreams, but it’s really accepting where you are, surrendering to the process and just showing up and doing the work.  It’s really true.  You can be on the smallest stage and make the biggest impact.

JD:  You can have these dreams, but it starts right now.  You have to find that love in anything you do.  I know working with you, you are going to give 110 percent, to whatever it is. We can be working on the movie The Terminal with Catherine Zeta Jones and Tom Hanks or at a little barn here by my house.  I know you.  I know dancers and choreographers I respect.  It’s the same thing.  It doesn’t matter where you are, you show up and give.

TNH:  Thank you, John, for your wisdom.  I love how passionate you are and I am so thankful for your sharing.  xoxo

                                               John working with Penelope Cruz during the film Nine

                                               John working with Penelope Cruz during the film Nine

                              John and Renee Zellweger on the film Chicago

                              John and Renee Zellweger on the film Chicago

                                                   Emmy winning Tony Bennett:  An American Classic

                                                   Emmy winning Tony Bennett:  An American Classic

                                                                 John teaching Zhang Ziyi during Memoirs of a Geisha 

                                                                 John teaching Zhang Ziyi during Memoirs of a Geisha 

                                                              Gorgeous dance from Memoirs of a Geisha

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

Dancer, Choreographer, Artist Tracy Phillips

What do you get when you combine style, technique, sensuality and authenticity?  You get dancer, choreographer, artist Tracy Phillips.  I’ve enjoyed dancing with this beauty over the years and always appreciate the ease, freedom and strength that she brings to her unique movement and voice.  A true feminine softness with the power of a million suns, she seduces with truth. 

And that special movement quality and story telling translates to her work as a choreographer.  Fresh, fun, highly stylized, chic, wild yet meticulous, the dance is sexy and strong.  She and her choreographing partner, Dominic Carbone, have created some of those most provocative dances around.  Called “fearless” by the LA Times, their work is respected and honored in the entertainment industry and our community.

In addition to world tours, music videos, choreographing on So You Think You Can Dance and for feature films, Tracy’s passion project is Harlow Gold, a high-energy, rock and roll girlie show in Long Beach and Downtown Los Angeles.  In-your-face and intimate, it features six dancers who take over every inch of the venue to inspire and excite.

So delighted that Tracy joined me for my Choreographer Interview Series.  Enjoy!!

TNH:  What drew you to being a dancer, and eventually a choreographer?

TP:  I started dancing when I was three and I immediately knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  Contrarily, choreography was not planned at all. I choreographed a number for a“choreographers carnival” because a Tom Waits song called “Pasties & a G-string” inspired me.  It just so happened, there was a successful choreographer in attendance who wanted to meet me after the show.  She said, “I want to work with you”.  I started assisting her on jobs and that was, essentially, the catalyst for my choreography career.  

TNH:  What does the craft of dance and making dances mean to you?

TP:  Dance and creating dance is my language… it’s my way to express myself.  It’s a feeling, an expression, a passion, a friend, a love and an identity! It’s also a truth… if you asked me to dance the answers to these questions you would get much more raw and honest responses! 

TNH:  Who are some of your creative influences?

TP:  I idolize Bob Fosse… for me, he is a master of directing and choreographing.  Many classic women in films also influence me. I love Cyd Charisse, Marilyn Monroe, Chita Rivera, Ann-Margret, Audrey Hepburn, Ann Reinking… there are so many!

TNH:  Can you talk a bit about your creative process?

TP:  Music is the first inspiration for me.  The music motivates the concept.  Then, I like to explore the concept and its aesthetic.  I find editorials and fashion very inspiring and I use tears to create a type of mood board for a piece.  I like to have visual references for hair, make-up, costumes, lighting, etc., prior to choreographing a dance.  Then comes the hard part… actually choreographing!  

TNH:  What do you look for when casting dancers and performers?

TP:  I always look for uniqueness in a dancer.  Dancers that know how to exploit what is special or different about them are my favorite kind of performers.  I also always say that good dancing is in the transitions, so I pay close attention to how a dancer gets from step to step. 

TNH:  What advice would you give a young dancer/performer with big dreams? 

TP:  You have to love it!  It’s not an easy road physically, emotionally or financially… so if you have another choice, you may want to do that!     

TNH:  How have you found confidence and held your strength through a business that can be filled with rejection, scrutiny and judgment?

TP:  I suppose I had an innate confidence or one that I found back when I was three that felt natural.  I always believed in myself as a dancer and as a performer.  That certainly didn’t make the journey easy, however.  It’s difficult for sensitive and creative people, but the clichés are true… you really have to have a thick skin and you absolutely can’t take anything personally.  

TNH:  What are some of your career highlights? 

TP:  This year I got to dance (and be the love interest) of Bob Dylan in his music video for “The Night They Called It A Day.”  For me, you can’t get much cooler than that!  My claim to fame is probably my role in the film “Charlie Wilson’s War” as the belly dancer.  Outside of the big jobs, directing and choreographing “Harlow Gold”, which is a joint creation with my partner, Dominic Carbone, is my greatest passion. I love to work with women and our modern cabaret-style revues are dedicated to female beauty and expression, with the intention of empowering women on the stage and off! 

TNH: What have been your biggest lessons about yourself in this entertainment field? 

TP:  The things I was most insecure about turned out to be some of my biggest assets.  What made me unique, made me special.  I learned to embrace those things as a performer and as a woman.    

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts to share?

TP: Thank you, Tara, for honoring me by asking me to be a part of this!  You are truly an exceptionaldancer and an inspiring woman!

TNH:  Thank you, Tracy!  I've always loved you and your work, and happy to share your insight with others!  And thank you to those who have visited this page. If you find this inspiring, please forward to others and sign-up for my Newsletter below for more dance love! 

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

The Beauty and Power of Kitty McNamee

Kitty McNamee is a highly regarded choreographer, earning distinction from Dance Magazine as an artist with “an outsize talent for that most elusive gift, originality."

Kitty’s work as a choreographer is completely satisfying to me, on the most primal level.  Her vision and voice come from a very inspired place that is uniquely original and yet taps into the sensuality, the confusion, the passion, the desire, the fear, the struggle, the joy that is life, and common for all of us.

Non-presentational, the dance happens unapologetically and without any need for approval.  This is SO refreshing as an audience member, as an observer.  Don’t ask anything of me, just do your thing and let me soak it all in.  Like a beautiful painting that comes to life, or the intimacy of a couple fighting for power, or the internal dialogue that keeps us trapped, Kitty’s work is multi-layered and very special.

Kitty brings her passion and unique voice to tv, film and live performances.  Recent work includes choreography for Lifetime's Petals on the Wind, Gwyneth Paltrow's The Restart Project, Secret Cinema’s ground-breaking live performances with Laura Marling in London, LA Philharmonic and Wet Design.  She is also the artistic director of Hysterica Dance Company, a consistently prolific and invigorating force in the LA dance community.

A dear friend who I am constantly inspired by, I am happy to highlight her and her incredible work.  Here is a taste of what she does and my interview with her to follow.

TNH:  When did you find dance and when did your desire to make dances develop?

KM:  I remember very clearly...the Joffrey 2 came to the small town I lived in in Ohio.  As soon as I saw the company on stage a light bulb went off.  I remember thinking "That's it! that's what I have been looking for!"  Until then I had only seen dance in movie musicals. I wasn't able to start taking class until I was 16, and have been in love with it ever since.

TNH:  What do you love about dance and being a choreographer?

KM:  I think my favorite thing is how the dance and music fit together.  I love music and it's exciting for me to unravel it's mysteries.  I also enjoy connecting with my dancers and learning from them.

TNH:  What are some of the challenges and rewards of running a dance company in Los Angeles?

KM:  The reward is definitely working with amazing dancers who are as passionate about dance as I am.  I think there is a very unfair stereotype that dancers in LA are not as well trained, talented or serious as dancers in NYC...which is completely inaccurate. The dancers here have a great range and because they also work commercially, they are very interested in digging into the more artistic side of things.  Greatest challenge was always budget, not a lot of funding for dance in LA.

TNH:  Do you read reviews or listen to feedback of your work?  If so, how do separate the courage to create from the fear of how your work is received?

KM:  I think it would be best to not read reviews, but who can resist!  If you read them you will have to take the good with the bad.  I can't really be worried about how the work will be received or I will freeze.  I do welcome feedback from people who are knowledgable and sensitive, dancers who have worked for me in the past are a wonderful resource.  Creating work is so personal, no one can do what I do...so i just get down to business and do it. 

TNH:  When you're casting dancers for a project, what do you look for?

KM:  Professionalism, passion, drama and clarity. 

TNH:  What fuels your creativity?

KM:  Challenge fuels my creativity.  I think that is why I enjoy working in different mediums (opera, concert, TV, videos).  They each have their own challenges which I find stimulating. Great dancers and great music fuel me as well.  Curiosity fuels me; why do people relate as they do? What mystery can I discover within my dancers and the music?

TNH:  Who have been the greatest creative influences in your life? 

KM:  That's a big question!  I think at the beginning I was very influenced by the masters of modern dance...all of whom were women.  I was fascinated by the way Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham were able to create something so original.  I was inspired by their maverick spirit.  At the height of Hysterica, my dancers and collaborators were a tremendous influence...tremendous inspiration.

TNH:  What would be your ultimate dream job?

KM:  I'm not sure that I have one ultimate dream job.  I love mixing it up, going from TV/film work to opera and ballet.  I find the tension between the "high and low" art very stimulating.  I would love to create original choreography for a Broadway show. . . that would be amazing.  I love telling a good story through dance!

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts or reflections to share?

KM:  I feel very, very fortunate to make a living doing what I love!

Thank you, Kitty, for sharing with me.  And thank you to those who have visited this page.  For more monthly choreographer interviews and dance love, sign-up below, it's FREE!

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

This is It, with Travis Payne and Stacy Walker

While sharing my own experiences about this wonderful dance business, I’ve been inspired to call on fellow artists whom I’ve had the privilege and honor to have worked with, to share a piece of their own journey.  To inspire, to share, to connect.  What inspires them?  What words of wisdom might they impart on a young performer with big dreams?  Choreographer/Director Travis Payne and his associate Stacy Walker are two such artists that I am very happy to include in my interview series.  

Travis Payne is an acknowledged innovator of screen, stage, and song, whose work encompasses some of the most influential visual and musical moments of contemporary pop culture, created for and performed by global entertainment icons from Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Lady GaGa to Shakira, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Mick Jagger, Mariah Carey and Madonna.  Payne and Walker (both as assistant and associate) have teamed on dozens of groundbreaking credits, including their work together on Michael Jackson’s This Is It both the tour rehearsals and subsequent film.  Their prolific, creative and vast careers are so impressive, but more impressive to me are these two as human beings. 

Thank you, Travis and Stacy, for your work, your time and your truth!  

Photo by Levi Walker Photography

Photo by Levi Walker Photography

TNH:  How do you compliment each other as a creative team?

TP:  Stacy Alexis Walker and I compliment each other by having different perspectives, as well as the understanding of how to best enhance each other’s strengths.

SW: I've always felt that Travis and I make a great team because we balance each other really well.  We bring different things to the table which allows Travis to concentrate on doing what he loves and me to concentrate on doing what I love.  We are both capable of working a job alone, but I feel our best work happens when we're together.  I've always felt so grateful to be able to work with someone (Travis) who allows me to be "me".  That's when I do my best work...  Most importantly, we both genuinely respect and love one another.  We always want the best for each other.  There is such a sense of safety in that.

TNH: From your experience, how does choreographing for tv and film differ from stage?  

TP:  Choreography for the camera is like Science and Choreography for the stage is like Math.

SW: TV/FILM is so fun to me because you can force the audience's perspective.  You have so much control.  If it's not right, you shoot again and again until it is.  This allows for more difficult and even dangerous movement.  The choreography can also be so much more intricate because you have the luxury of shooting close ups.  STAGE is exactly the opposite!  The audience generally sees everything from one angle, the front.  If someone makes a mistake or gets injured, too bad.  You get one shot to do it right and do it great!  This makes choreographing for stage really exciting but also can limit your choices.  For example, if you have a couple doing a difficult lift that they can only land half the time, better to find something safer and less tricky...  I love choreographing TV/FILM and STAGE, but for opposite reasons.  It's nice to have the balance of experiencing both!

TNH:  What was one of your dream jobs and why?

TP: One of my dream jobs was the very first music video I danced in, Cameo’s “The Skin I’m In”.

SW: I feel like I've had so many dream jobs but I really, really loved working on This is It I had been a dancer for Michael Jackson in the past, but as a woman, I only performed certain dance numbers.  On This is It, I was part of the choreography team which allowed me do (teach) all of the choreography, male and female...  It was so fun for me to dance those numbers that I never had a chance to prior.  Plus, there is nothing like working with the best of the best.  Our cast and crew were exceptional.  When you are surrounded by such awesome talent, it makes "you" work harder and brings out your best.

TNH:  Where do you find inspiration?

TP: The spa

SW: I find inspiration everywhere.  Walking my dog, tv, magazines, friends, conversations...  It's all around us, all the time!

TNH:  You both have had such longevity and success in this business?  What do you attribute that to?

TP:  Stay HUMBLE or STUMBLE

SW:  I think Travis and I are good at delivering what the client is asking for in the timeframe that is given.  It's really that simple.  It's important to remember that this is a business and we are being hired to perform a service.  I think that a choreographer working in commercial dance has to be able to separate the art from the business.  I'm not saying that commercial dance can't be artistic.  I'm saying that many times you may be asked to choreograph to a piece of music you don't particularly find inspiring or go in a direction that is the opposite of your preference, but it's not always about "your vision" coming through, it's about the clients!  Keeping this in mind makes the journey a lot easier and keeping your clients happy will lead to repeat customers!

TNH:  What advice do you have for a young dancer wanting to make it in this business? 

TP: 

  1. Protect your body
  2. Save more than you spend
  3. Surround yourself with the most positive influences you can
  4. Keep those who love you close
  5. Do not think it will be easy
  6. Have a plan/keep lists
  7. Take criticism and compliments respectfully
  8. Be fearless
  9. Don't burn bridges
  10. Call your mother

SW:  TALENT can get you a job but having a great WORK ETHIC can get you a career.  If you're not pleasant to work with, prepared or consistently show up late, no matter how talented you are, it's not worth it...

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts or reflections to share?

TP:  Document the experience.  You will appreciate having the memories!

SW: I love what I do and I'm so grateful to be doing it!  ... especially when I get to do it with Travis Payne

 

Check out the Travis Payne shoe and apparel line at www.travispayneapparel.com

Photo by Hanser & Hue Photography 

Photo by Hanser & Hue Photography 

Travis and Stacy are represented by Go 2 Talent Agency

                                                                                                                   

                                         

                                                                     

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

The Incomparable Debbie Allen Interview

Debbie Allen is quite frankly a force to be reckoned with.  She was larger than life for me as a child watching Fame, but meeting her and working with her has surpassed that iconic image I held in my mind as a young girl.  Her reverence and respect for the arts is so powerful that every project she touches invites the dancer, actor, performer involved to bring the best of themselves to the room.  I recently read a quote from actress Sandra Oh who said, “One of the reasons I am an actor is directly because of Debbie Allen.” 

Debbie makes things happen, she is a believer in possibilities, and even though she directs huge television shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, she always comes back to the dance.  She is a dancer, through and through.  

I’ve had the privilege and honor to have danced for Debbie on many projects like the Academy Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors with Stevie Wonder, and many live shows with incredible artists like Lena Horne, Tito Puente, Thelonious Monk Jr, among others.  My time with her will always be a special and beautiful highlight of my career.  She is an inspiring woman to me, creating no matter what, showing up in the biggest way as she guides our youth through the arts, balancing a family with a powerful business life.  She does it all!  And, has a wicked sense of humor and can make a fabulous margarita to boot!! :)

I’ve been curious how other artists handle the ups and downs of the entertainment business.  This is why I started this series of interviews.  The guidance, feedback, insight from those who have done it successfully may help a young performer on their path, or anyone along the path of life really.  Debbie Allen has done it with such grace.  I am thankful that she agreed to my interview.  May we all take a little something from her words, including the funny ones.

 

TNH:  How does being a dancer and choreographer inform you as a director?

DA:  It’s all about movement and designing where the camera goes.  Starting as a director for dance first, it’s always been the camera that moves and dances. 

TNH:  What fuels you to stay creative and make things happen?

DA:  The young people that I work with that look at me with big bright eyes every day, hopeful about their future and what is possible.

TNH:  Who have been the biggest creative influences in your life?

DA:  My mother, my sister, Katherine Dunham. 

TNH:  Do you read reviews of your work and if so, how do you separate the courage to create from the fear of how it’s received?

DA:  I’m not afraid of reviews. It’s always one person's opinion and the paper is used to clean up dog shit the next day.

TNH:  How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, a mom, a professional?

DA:  You do one thing at a time.  You wake up and you make breakfast. You go to work, where you’re in charge all day.  You come home and you walk your dog and watch TV with your husband and you catch up with your children.  My personal life is very sobering for me. 

TNH:  What do you believe are some of the reasons to you having longevity and success in this business?  

DA:  I’m still a kid when it comes to inquiry and discovery. 

TNH:  What advice would you give to a young performer with big dreams?

DA:  Dreams are great, dreams are the lens through which you project yourself into the universe.  And then you have to be willing to do the work, the work to make your dreams come true. 

TNH:  Thank you, Ms. Debbie Allen, for your wisdom and insight.  I'll be posting more interviews monthly so please subscribe to the Newsletter below for more!!

                              This picture is an oldie but goodie!  Love you Debbie Allen!

                             This picture is an oldie but goodie!  Love you Debbie Allen!

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

Finding Neverland

In my twenties I traveled the world dancing, living out of a suitcase and flittering about from job to job, country to country.  No roots tied to any one place, just the adventures in front of me.  My favorite thing to do was to use my dance jobs as a spring board to more exploration.  A show in Singapore turned into a 10 day backpacking journey in Thailand with blue sunsets and the most warm, loving people.  A teaching job in Germany led me to the Black Forest and the Berlin Wall as it was falling.  And the misty, magical morning at Stonehenge, thanks to my time in London filming a movie, will forever be embedded in my mind and heart.  I’ve had so many quiet and beautiful moments scattered along our world.  I never questioned, I just leapt and let the moment take me.

And now, I have a family and two young daughters, a daily rhythm that is predictable and lovely in so many ways.  My dance and choreography work has kept me close and I’ve found a comfort and security in the deep roots that have grown.  But a new adventure has come my way and even though it’s a little daunting relocating my family for the summer and leaving the safety net of our beautiful bubble, I feel ready for the change and want to give my kids a new landscape to explore.  Sunsets with a different hue, as the light is new from place to place.  I do know that.       

I am going to be a part of the creative team for the musical Finding Neverland.  With rehearsals in New York City and a run at the prestigious American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge and plans for Broadway soon after, I am excited to be a part of this moving and inspiring story about love, possibilities, and the rich, fruitful world of our imagination.       

And so the adventure begins . . .

A Conversation with Choreographer/Director Tyce Diorio

The amazing insights I have gained along my performing arts path as a dancer and choreographer have inspired this blog.  From dealing with rejection to finding the courage to create, there are many lessons on this beautiful journey.  As I share my own stories, I have decided to find out how others have handled the ups and downs of the business.  From the famous and successful, to the quiet artists who are not so known, we all have stories to share.  My first questions are for American Choreographer/Director Tyce Diorio.

Tyce is best known for his work as a guest judge on the FOX television series So You Think You Can Dance.  He has choreographed and performed for Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez, and Taylor Swift, as well as numerous projects for film, television and Broadway.             

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tyce as a fellow dancer and assistant to him on So You Think You Can Dance, and other projects.  Always inspired by his creative process and equally impressed by him as a person, I wanted to know more about his inner process and how he finds balance in this vulnerable and changing business.      

TNH: As a dancer, what inspired you to move into choreography?

TD:  As a dancer, I was always in love with the process of being in the studio, the creating process with a choreographer.  It thrilled me to make their vision/dreams come true through my movement in their work. I lived and breathed for the choreographer to be inspired by my talent.  That’s all I needed to fill my soul to the highest degree. I didn’t even need money. :)  

Then the transition of dancer to choreographer happened naturally for me with the start of SYTYCD.  I received a call from the producers asking if I could do a Fosse piece and I was in CHICAGO THE MUSICAL at the time so it was a perfect fit.  I knew the work very well.

TNH: Do you read reviews or listen to feedback of your work?  If so, how do separate the courage to create from the fear of how your work is received?

TD:  I have read reviews and listened to the response/feedback of my work.  Yes, it can be a scary, fearful position to be in.  However, over time I have managed to gain perspective of it all after realizing "its not everything". 

And that comes with some experience and thick skin.  I think we will always be vulnerable to reviews and feedback.  But, I won’t let that bring me down or let it keep my head in the clouds, if that makes sense.  I’ll stay right in the middle.  I find for me, not having too much attachment to much outside of myself & my work/worth is the best for me.  I don’t ignore it.  I listen and take it all in but can measure the meter of what to keep, and what not to keep.

TNH:  Where do you find inspiration?

TD:  I find inspiration in life in general... travel, music, art, paintings, museums, films, everyday people, conversations, meditation, just living life away from dance and the business.  And of course, other great artists.

TNH: What do you love about choreographing on SYTYCD?

TD:  What I love about choreographing on SYTYCD is I am surrounded by other wonderful choreographers and dancers to create on.  We are given lots of freedom to express ourselves. It allows us to bring forth the vision of our work as a director, from the music editing, costuming, lighting, props, etc.  So that is always exciting.  And we work with the best people in their field on the show to make it happen.  Not to mention, it's a show that celebrates dance in highest level form.

TNH:  From my experience working with you, you follow your creative instincts.  How did you develop that inner trust?

TD:  I can be very trusting of myself and then NOT!  But I think having such a time constraint with working in television you must make bold, smart choices quickly and so maybe I have learned that in some way through experience....but it's not always there, I’ll tell you.  And working with artists such as Taylor Swift, I have learned to be clear and trust myself more and more.  It’s a never ending process.  It comes and goes for me. ;)

TNH:  There can be ups and downs, rejection and disregard in the entertainment business.  What tools have you developed to keep your confidence and belief in yourself?

TD:  I have always felt drawn to purity/excellence in people I work with.  And with that comes more sincerity and truth in the work.  I stay connected to what I feel in my being and I’ve never felt I’ve gone wrong with making that my guide.  I have always done what I love and walked away from what didn’t feel right, and my path just revealed itself to me easily.  The only thing I knew I could count on was me and my talent as a dancer... and the relationships I created and kept.  Outside of that there was nothing I could control as a person who auditioned, and we as people who have done that for so long, we walk into those audition rooms all the time with those questions "am I good enough?”, “do you like me?”,  “am I what you’re looking for?” and on and on.... So for that, it can be tough and you need thick skin with the ability to handle the process gracefully with ease.  So, I say enjoy the journey so you don’t become a tortured artist. 

TNH:  Do you have any other thoughts or reflections to share?

TD:  The other thing I have kept and used as a tool is understanding rejection and what people call failure.  I say, let it all in and look at the "not so great" moments clearly so you can understand where things lie on the playing field.  Failure is important to recognize and embrace.  And even with that, nothing really is failure if you have the tools to stay with your craft in this business with the inner strength to keep going when all looks and seems unclear.

Thank you, Tyce, for sharing with me.  And thank you to those who have visited this page.  For more inspiring Dance and Choreographer interviews, subscribe to my monthly newsletter below!  And share with those who might be inspired by this.  

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

I Won't Give Up, A Film

It was incredibly inspiring being a part of this short dance film, honoring and celebrating the amazing and brave Donna Russo.  Donna has danced nearly all her life, but over the past seven years muscular dystrophy has taken away much of her ability to move.  Despite her condition, dance is still alive in her heart.

After sharing this film, the response was so positive and amazing.  The Abilities Expo, an event for people with disabilities, asked us to come perform this dance with Donna.  The expo is a celebration of what you can do and boy, is it inspiring!! 

On a concrete floor at the LA Convention Center, with no raised stage and no stage lights, we danced for a mostly wheelchair bound audience.  My heart filled with gratitude for the gift of life and the gift of dance, and I was humbled. 

The audience members were invited to join in learning a short dance with us after the performance.  All those who participated were in wheelchairs and I was so moved at how much passion, love, joy and openness was shared in their “restricted” movement.   

I was reminded of how healing dance is.  It connects us to our humanity, to our core.  It allows us an expression beyond words.  It allows us freedom!!  

Thank you to Donna for bringing me this opportunity and for my dance partner Kelleia Sheerin and choreographer Tam Warner.

Projects like these make me so proud to be a dancer, proud to be a human being. Gifts come in so many unexpected ways. 

And, check out what the dance team at Walk and Roll Foundation can do!!

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS

Interview with Tara

Last year I was interviewed by an amazing non-profit group called Mental Fitness, Inc.  Their mission is to build mental fitness in all youth.  Their blog site, The Real Deal, shares empowering content authored by professionals from the arts, wellness, nutrition, yoga and psychology, with the aim to help today's youth on body image, healthy coping, nutrition and self-esteem.

I didn't know that this interview would eventually stir a deeper calling in me to share my stories and some of the tools that have helped me find balance, self-acceptance and greater joy along my performing arts path as a dancer and choreographer.  This particular interview inspired me to start my blog.  

I have copied the full interview here for you to read and I want to thank Robyn Hussa for all the amazing work she does and for asking for my thoughts. 

xo Tara

INTERVIEW:

RH: Please tell us about yourself and what you do?

TNH: I am a dancer/choreographer.  I started dancing at age 9 at a local studio in Orlando, Florida.  I walked in the door, hearing and feeling the vibration of music and seeing bodies in motion and I never walked out.  I trained under an AMAZING woman named Cathy Gillaspie, who guided me, mentored me and inspired me.  I went on to a full dance scholarship at Loyola Marymount Manhattan College in NYC and eventually moved to Los Angeles to fulfill my dream to work as a dancer and choreographer in film, television, commercials and stage.  I’ve had an extraordinary career working alongside the most inspired artists including Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Zeta Jones and Madonna among others.

RH: Can you tell us a bit about any upcoming shows that you are working on?

TNH: I choreographed a series of commercials for Faith Hill earlier this year and have an Al Pacino film called Danny Collins that will be released in 2015, that I choreographed.  He was lovely to work with and I had a ball!  I’m also really enjoying choreographing for a new show called Trophy Wife with Malin Akerman and Marcia Gay Harden that begins airing this September on ABC.  It’s a very funny show that I am proud to be a part of.  I’ve also been dancing, completing work on The Neighbors, Grey’s Anatomy and a really cool commercial for Samsung on The Voice.

RH: Do you find the pressures of being performer / artist significant with regard to feeling the need to have a “perfect” body?  If so, how do you navigate through that terrain?  How do you “not” judge yourself when others (critics, audience members, producers, etc.) “judge” you based on outward measures?

TNH: Well, I have chosen a career where image and body is at the forefront.  I wish that we could all just dance, act, sing and express ourselves artfully without the scrutiny of how we look, but unfortunately it is the whole package that we are auditioning for and selling, ultimately. Being at the top of my game means that I am well trained and bring my talent to the room, but it also means that I am able to help facilitate the vision of the director, writers, ad agencies, etc.  When I walk into an audition room, it’s not about me anymore, which I know sounds counter-intuitive.

Starting to choreograph and being on the other side of the audition table has helped me with this immensely!!!  Mostly it’s just NOT a personal thing.  Sometimes casting just needs one blonde, one brunette and a redhead or they are looking for someone with a specific quality or essence that gels well with an actor.  This revelation was HUGE for me.  I’ve learned, all I can do as a performer is my best, including dancing with everything I’ve got, having my head shots up to date, wearing the appropriate clothes, being in tune with what hair and make-up works best for me and most importantly, being authentically me in the room.  After that, it is out of my hands.

There will be feedback and messages along the way that will inform me and if I’m smart I will make adjustments but thankfully I’ve come to this . . . who I am at my core, my value, my worth, my beauty, my true SELF is separate and independent of the needs of a project and those who are hiring me and critiquing me.

I can’t say it’s always easy for me but being gentle and kind with myself is helpful when disappointments and feelings of rejection come up, when you want something so badly and it doesn’t work out.  Letting the sad, angry, jealous, disappointing emotions out is the first way for me to move through it.  Then I can look at the bigger picture and trust that I am ok and supported and loved.  And then sometimes I just have to put on the music, and dance . . .

RH: Who were the role models in your life?

TNH: Primarily my dance teacher Cathy who I mentioned earlier.  She was an extraordinary woman who was in touch with her own inner beauty and light.  Herpositive leadership came in the form of inspirational talks, informing us aboutfeeding our bodies with healthy foods, dancing from our heart and soul, sharing our gifts with others and those in need and a real essence of love.

She was inspired and she knew how to inspire the goodness and the altruistic qualities in me and I believe in my dance friends.  Never did she focus on weight or body image.  It was only about the love of dance, working hard and the camaraderie of our company of dancers.  I am forever thankful for her and know, without a doubt,  she helped shape who I am in a large and positive way during that oh so influential and vulnerable time in my life; she helped me focus my mind on my inner experience and so whatever outer work happened, it was an extension of the love and passion for my craft.

I know this is a gift because I’ve seen other studios, other shows, other experiences and it is not that.

RH:  What do you define as beautiful?

TNH: What is authentically true.  When I see and experience others share their authentic selves, I see that as beautiful and I feel most beautiful when I am in a place of acceptance and love.

RH: How do you define inner beauty?

TNH: The inner world is such a private and beautiful oasis.  What a gift to have the convening of self, that place that is so expansive where anything is possible.  Inner beauty is that gentleness with oneself.  That place deep inside where you become the comfort, where you have the chance to align to your higher purpose.

RH: What is happiness?

TNH: Happiness is what you choose it to be.  Is the glass half full or is it half empty?  Is this an opportunity or are you victim to your circumstances?  Do you have the courage to step fully into yourself?

RH: How do you manage your stress levels in daily life?  Do you use music / art / dance, etc. as a coping tool?  Are there other things that you do to live mindfully?

TNH: Things that bring me the most peace are being in nature, meditating and surrounding myself with beautiful things like paintings, music and art.  I love color, design and composition.  I think it’s important for each of us to find what speaks to our soul and go to that for comfort and inspiration.

Music is an incredible vehicle for me for feeling inspired and getting me in touch with my emotional life.  I also have this thing that I’ve been doing for a long time and it ALWAYS frees me, ALWAYS takes me to a place of self empowerment.  If I feel nervous or stressed about an audition, work scenario or any life situation, I set a very clear intention about how I’d like to experience myself within that particular situation.  

I don’t worry about the steps to get there, I only focus on the intention and I let the Universe take care of the rest.  It’s kind of like that Albert Einstein quote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.  I have to trust in the larger picture and my larger self, the part of me that is completely open, fluid, receptive, wise, expansive and all knowing.  I know this probably sounds so new age and lofty, but there is real power there; I experience it daily!

RH: How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, a mom, a professional — what are keys to balance?

TNH: To be honest, it is a challenge for me.  I want to be a present, available, loving mommy, an amazing partner, a successful career woman, and a whole, happy individual.  Each of those spokes of my life takes patience, love, clarity of direction, time and commitment.  Luckily I have an amazing man in my life.  He is a beautiful artist and supports my work completely and understands the limitations of balancing it all.  It is a lot of work and we are still learning.  What has helped is asking for help and choosing to be present with whatever task is at hand.  Putting the work away when we’re with the kids.

Finding time to dive fully into the work when it is time.  Sometimes our house is complete chaos and other times it is just magical with Rob at the piano, dancing happening and a lot of laughter.  I’m still learning to relax and find the play and joy, even in the midst of the juggling circus act.  The one thing I do know is the importance of “me” time and “us” time. I think those are great lessons to teach our daughters.

RH: Other thoughts / reflections?

TNH:  I reflect often on how blessed I feel for the group of amazing, inspiring friends around me.  I call them my “tribe” and they have become my family.  I feel lifted, supported, seen and understood by them.  I am constantly inspired and moved by their courage and faith and artistry.  If one can surround themselves with those that bring light and positivity, thinking outside the box in an empowering way, it is a gift.  That support system makes life a little sweeter . . . and certainly more fun!  

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

UPCOMING EVENTS